Fire conditions
require faster action

I’m watching snow fall outside my office as I write this, just a couple hours after listening to emergency dispatches about large grass fires that took multiple fire departments to extinguish, then had to be re-extinguished after being reignited by a single hot spot, and I’m glad to hear the county is trying to devise a better system for limiting burning when conditions are ripe for fires to get out of control.

Currently, when a farmer, rancher, or road and bridge crew wants to have a controlled burn, they are supposed to call the county communications office to notify the county — notify, not ask if fires are allowed. Dispatchers can let callers know that there is a fire weather warning if conditions are dry and windy, but they can’t stop someone from burning unless the county commission has approved a burn ban ordinance.

The commission meets more often than city councils or school boards, but there are still six days a week that the commission doesn’t meet most weeks. The result is that by the time the commission has an opportunity to issue a burn ban, the worst of dry or windy conditions are often already past.

The county commission plans to pass a resolution that will set criteria for a burn ban, rather than requiring a new resolution each time a ban is implemented. That would avoid the delayed response of having dangerous conditions lead to a big fire on a Wednesday, followed by approval of a burn ban the next Monday.

Alternatively, the commission could pass an ordinance granting some full-time official — the sheriff and emergency manager seem like the sensible choices, given their close ties with the emergency communications department — the authority to make decisions about whether or not to allow controlled burns on a day-by-day basis.

Without some kind of change to the procedure for issuing burn bans, the county commission will be stuck trying to put out fires that have already happened.


Last modified March 27, 2014